E3 '09: MyWasabi

Among the more politely quiet voices outside the spotlight at E3 were the folks at the unfortunately-named (as it shares monikers with a big, evil US online gambling company) GameTech of Japan, who had representatives from their MyWasabi product line.

Wasabi makes gorgeous skins for Nintendo DSi, DSLite, and Wii; Apple iPod Nano and iPhone, Sony PS2, PS3, and PSP, and Xbox 360. Even the Atari Lynx. (note: the previous statement is not true.) Their skins aren't just for the consoles themselves - they have lots of accessory skins for cartridge/card holders, purse-style bags, furoshiki-style sacks, and wrapping cloths for portables, and generally just all kinds of carrying items for all the separate pieces of junk and clutter your bad, bad gaming habit has accumulated.

I feel the need to toot my horn about Wasabi for a couple of reasons: skins have become recently trendy, and a lot of them look good, but Wasabi's designs, in particular, look great. It's all distinctly Japanese art - some of it recognized classics (I'm a big fan of Hokusei, the Edo era painter/engraver who's most noted, at least in my mind, for a large collection of prints and paintings dedicated to waterfalls of Buddhist and Shinto significance across the country), and most of it in the classical style in general. You don't have to be nihon ichiban about everything to like some of Wasabi's patterns - there are no less than a half-dozen cherry and peach blossom designs that look striking on the portable carry purses and furoshiki sacks that even my non-Japanophile female friends would love. Most of the designs have a distinctly feminine (or at the very least subdued and artistic) character- there's nothing in the way of swordfights, ninja, or Raijin, kami of storms, hucking lightning bolts at pirates while almost-naked girls jump motorcycles over tanks full of pythons. This is clearly stuff aimed at more mature consumers interested in adding some decorative quality to their gaming hardware (the deep black glossy “Koi” design on an Xbox 360 in a room with dark walls? Exquisite).

Secondly, Wasabi had enough of said designs on hand at E3 for me to say with some authority that the stuff is well made- I've seen a lot of console skins that are basically an outgrowth of those puffy plastic stickers of Strawberry Shortcake you used to put on your marble notebook to cover up where you wrote that you love Bobby DiStefano or where you screwed up trying to draw the Dead Kennedys logo. The carrybags, purses, and whatnot are blends of silky and nylon materials that appeared decidedly durable in the brief inspection I was able to give, and the adhesive plastic (looks and seems to feel a lot like the ‘vinyls' used to bond to metal car bodies for detailing) of the skin I was given as a free sample withstood a pretty vigorous stretch test.

Compared to some of the domestic skins also showcased at E3 and elsewhere, Wasabi's designs were a touch more expensive- a purse-style carrybag for your DSi will run you $31 USD. Not dramatically higher than other stuff on offer, but you do seem to be getting what you pay for.

Thirdly, I wanted to spread the word because I just plain liked these folks, a lot. There was a real dearth, in general, of hospitable, welcoming, friendly booths in the hysteria that was E3 this year, and the Wasabi folks were warm and polite, and, most importantly to almost everyone, among the few giving out genuinely good-quality swag to media. In exchange for filling out surveys, they were happy to hand out small samples to just about anyone who asked. They were patient with my terribly stilted Japanese pronunciation and utterly titillated (or at least faking it really well) by the rush-job hiragana I used on the survey form. They were eager to begin doing brisk business in the United States, and were just generally into their product- they cared if you thought the stuff was attractive, they wanted to know, and you were able to believe they were invested in the quality.

So, to summarize: Wasabi brought together some interesting market demographics- gamers and consumers of artistic design, which typically means older or female (or both). Their designs are tasteful reproductions of well-known Japanese classical art, which makes them stand out quite a bit in a sea of sense-assaulting anime aesthetics. They're well priced for the level of quality, and they have something for every single platform currently selling. Lastly, they're the friendly new kid on the block, and deserve an enthusiastic consumer response: show the market our gaming can be beautiful!

To browse their products, visit www.my-wasabi.com.

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